NASA's Curiosity rover made the perfect landing on Mars earlier this week and is now capturing pictures of the never-before seen region of the Red Planet. With the rover looking forward to spend its first weekend on Mars' surface, it's preparing for a "brain transplant."
Yes, a "brain transplant," which will include transitioning to software better suited for tasks ahead, such as driving and using its strong robotic arm.
According to NASA, it will be a series of steps from August 10 to August 13 and will install a new version of software on both of the rover's redundant main computers. This software for Mars surface operations was uploaded to the rover's memory during the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's flight from Earth.
"We designed the mission from the start to be able to upgrade the software as needed for different phases of the mission," said Ben Cichy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., chief software engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
"The flight software version Curiosity currently is using was really focused on landing the vehicle. It includes many capabilities we just don't need any more. It gives us basic capabilities for operating the rover on the surface, but we have planned all along to switch over after landing to a version of flight software that is really optimized for surface operations."
NASA has said that a key capability in the new version is image processing to check for obstacles allowing for longer drives by giving the rover more autonomy to identify and avoid potential hazards and drive along a safe path the rover identifies for itself.
Other new capabilities facilitate use of the tools at the end of the rover's robotic arm.
As Curiosity is completing the software transition, the mission's science team is continuing to examine images that the rover has taken of its surroundings inside Gale Crater. Researchers are discussing which features in the scene to investigate after a few weeks of initial checkouts and observations to assess equipment on the rover and characteristics of the landing site.
Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. (1:32 a.m. EDT, August 6) near the foot of a mountain that was three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside the Gale Crater. Since then, the rover has sent back a number of pictures, including black-and-white views of the rocky ground in front of the rover.
Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance.